Sam's Secret: He knew it, we knew it, and now you do
The Early Lead
February 13, 2014
The first time I met Michael Sam was the second semester of my senior year in college. One of my pledge brothers was a student trainer on the University of Missouri football team and Sam proved to be one of the players he got to know better than the others.
Sam was a redshirt freshman at the time, and he was interested in going out with us, interested in meeting new people.
I also had a good friend who I had gone to high school with on the football team so it wasn't uncommon for my group of friends to intermingle with his friends on the football team. Thus, I had gotten to know several of the players during my time at Mizzou outside the confines of interviews from covering the team.
But Sam was different. He wasn't macho, even though his 6-foot-2, 260-pound frame you've undoubtedly seen on your television screen sacking quarterbacks at some point in the past few days suggested otherwise. He was kind, inquisitive and a lot of fun to be around. He never talked about football that first night we were all out, unless he was asked about it by me or my friends, in which case, he obliged.
By the end of the night, however, a characteristic about Sam had become apparent to me. He was gay. He did not reveal that to me in any way, but I knew it and my friend Nick, the football trainer, knew it as well. And although it was a little shocking, I honestly didn't care. And neither did my friend.
Thankfully, neither did Michael eventually.
In what was a carefully orchestrated curtain removal by his agents Joe Barkett and Cameron Weiss of Empire Athletes, Sam came out of the closet publicly in an interview with the New York Times and ESPN that was released Sunday night.
And the reason it is a big deal is because who "Mike," as he is commonly referred to, turned out to be as a football player. He transformed from an undersized, overlooked two-star recruit into one of the more prolific defensive players in the country for a 12-2 Missouri team this past season.
He was a first-team all-American and was named the Associated Press defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, widely considered the top league in college football.
And now, he's positioned himself to become the first publicly gay player in the National Football League.
There are many layers to the story. Many that I've enjoyed reading from the national outlets, especially those which speculate how it will effect Sam's draft status based on talking with anonymous NFL front office officials - most of whom say Sam will plummet in the draft due to concerns of other players not accepting him in the locker room, one saying "it's a man's man game."
(By the way, is there anything more pathetic than grown men not attaching their name to sentiments about a college kid who just came out publicly?)
Before the season, Sam came out to his teammates at a team-building exercise when players were asked to talk about themselves, with one of the requirements being to tell them something others might not know about them. It was not a shock to many.
"I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads - like, finally, he came out," Sam said Sunday in an interview with The New York Times, the first time he had spoken publicly about his sexual orientation.
That confession distracted the Missouri team so much, it went on to win the SEC East division and win the Cotton Bowl - one of the three best seasons in school history.
When the story was linked to Twitter, naturally it exploded. The next thing I knew, SportsCenter on ESPN had nonstop coverage of the announcement.
I received a text message from my friend Nick that read, "he finally did it." To which I responded, "it's about time." And we marvelled at the copious amounts of attention the story was receiving.
I hung out with Mike numerous times after that first night. And although it nagged at me to say something, or ask him about it for clarification, I never did. I figured if he wanted to tell us he would tell us. It was his choice.
Sunday was a landmark moment for sports and I'm glad Mike was brave enough to spearhead it.
But I hope his courage eventually leads to widespread sentiment akin to what I felt the first night I met him and discovered his secret. That would be progress.
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